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About Femke Vrenegoor

Femke works as sustainability lecturer at Hotel Management School NHL Stenden and became a member of our Research Group Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism in 2009. In November 2016 she started her PhD as an external candidate at Groningen University / Campus Fryslân. Her PhD project addressed the values and motivations of SME tourism entrepreneurs as antecedents to their sustainable behaviour. During her PhD project she had the chance to present her results at various international conferences and use her newly obtained knowledge and skills in her teaching role. She will defend her thesis “Sustainable Tourism Entrepreneurs – Values, Motivations and Implemented Sustainability Measures” on Friday 14 April in Leeuwarden. Below the main outcomes of her research are illustrated.

SME Tourism Entrepreneurs: Why do they do what they do?

The tourism industry greatly contributes to economic growth, but is also accountable for an important part of the global CO emissions. Despite the increased attention to sustainability in organizations throughout the last three decades, small-sized tourism enterprises have been accused of lagging behind in their contribution to reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In the Netherlands 96% of accommodations are small-sized and their sustainable behaviour is ill-understood. This begs the question if and to what extent SME tourism entrepreneurs in the Netherlands behave sustainably, and why they do so.

Small-sized tourism entrepreneurs implement numerous different sustainability measures, going beyond the typical environmental and cost-saving sustainability measures that they are assumed to take. Femke found evidence that there is an emerging attention to the social dimension of sustainability: “These entrepreneurs implement numerous social sustainability measures, though they simply don’t recognize them as such. Typically, these actions connect to their embeddedness in their locality. For example, they hire local staff, they use local suppliers for food, and they contribute to the overall wellbeing of the local community”.

Furthermore, Femke’s research shows that values and motivations are crucial antecedents in understanding which and how many sustainability measures the entrepreneur implements in their organization. Values are a stable but less direct antecedent of sustainable behaviour, and motivations are a more direct yet less stable antecedent of sustainable behaviour. Contrary to what one might expect, egoistic values, those values that connect to guarding and improving one’s resources, are least prioritized amongst this group of small-sized tourism entrepreneurs. Rather, their biospheric values, those values that connect to a concern with the quality of the natural environment, are important values for them, and result in the implementation of both social and environmental sustainability measures.

Most of the SME tourism entrepreneurs go into business due to a passion for the industry. They enjoy the high quality of life working as an entrepreneur in the industry offers them, and wish to maintain this chosen lifestyle rather than seeking to maximize income and growth of the business. Lifestyle motivations are also the most important motive for acting sustainably; these entrepreneurs do so because it aligns with their personal values and habits. These lifestyle motivations have also shown to have a significant relation on the implemented environmental and social sustainability measures.

These insights from Femke’s research can be used to in communication around and nudging for more and better sustainable behaviour. Since Femke’s finding suggest that Dutch SME tourism entrepreneurs actually embrace biospheric values, and are already motivated to act sustainably due to lifestyle reasons, attention should go to making it easier to act in accordance with their values and motivations. Furthermore, communication about sustainability should demonstrate how the implementation of sustainability measures contributes to maintaining their desired lifestyle.

Femke will be continuing her research efforts by experimenting with designing and implementing nudges and measuring their effect on the sustainable behaviour of SME tourism entrepreneurs.